SB Nation is a website comprised of 310 blogs. The goal of SB Nation’s mini-sites is to be the largest network of fan-centric sports communities. The coverage spans each Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), international and Major League Soccer (MLS) team along with every college in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). There are blogs that focus on college football recruitment, NASCAR, golf, Minor League Baseball, sabermetrics, fantasy sports, the NBA developmental league, women’s basketball at the professional and collegiate levels, college hockey, mixed martial arts and UFC, boxing, Indy Car racing, cycling, running and horse racing. There are also local blogs for Arizona, Atlanta, the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington D.C., Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Longform articles on the topic of the author’s choice are also featured on the site.
In order to properly analyze SB Nation a few of the aspects that needed to be looked at were the homepage and how the design of the site transfers to a mobile device especially how the navigation, the search function and account settings change, how fans use the website and interact with the content and the quality of the content and who is developing that content. In some of these areas it was helpful to compare SB Nation to a site, Bleacher Report, who has a similar content type and emphasis on the fan experience. The analysis also found gaps in the content and how some areas of existing content can be further developed. An analysis is also successful by looking at the site from different perspectives and in this case as a developer of the content and as a consumer of the content.
When looking at SB Nation it is important to note whom SB Nation is gearing their content toward. This site is visited most often by males ages 18 to 34. Based on the information provided by SB Nation’s publisher VOX Media, it is this age group that contributes to 44% of total page views. VOX Media also states that “the young, male, affluent audience is hard to reach and even harder to persuade,” yet SB Nation has 19.34 million unique visitors. A quotation displayed on the about page from NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell says that SB Nation is “reflecting the fans’ perspective and giving the fans a voice.” It is also important to note that the staff of SB Nation is very large with main content developers for each blog, but the writers are specialists in a certain sport. The staff of SB Nation also contains five of Forbes’ Top 10 Influencers in the Business of Sports – two are general SB Nation writers and three are the main contributors to NFL blogs.
One of the interesting aspects about SB Nation is that the blogs are called communities. This is because “every fan of every team deserves the same access and input to the highest-quality coverage and conversation.” They aim to bring fans the sports stories they really care about and openly encourage fans to share their perspectives with responses from authors and other fans. The main rule – “treat our comment threads the way you’d treat your favorite sports bar: keep the conversations fun, engaging and respectful.” The site should be a “satisfying place to hang out.” Each community has their own specific guidelines that need to be followed. Fans are also encouraged to post their own stories as well as fanshots or small, interesting tidbits of information that do not require an entire post for sharing like pictures or videos.
Bleacher Report has similar content to that of SB Nation, but Bleacher Report only allows fans to comment on posts and interact through that medium. An application must be submitted to the Bleacher Report Writer Program that has an average acceptance rate of 15%. Bleacher Report states, “most accepted applicants have at least several years of formal journalism work or education to their credit.” Since July 2013, Bleacher Report has received 22 million multi-platform unique visitors just a little over three million more than SB Nation. SB Nation is doing it right by calling their blogs communities. They provide the news that sports fans want, but also allow them to share what they believe is important and interact as if it were a digital sports bar. If a fan wants to write for SB Nation on a permanent basis, there is an application process and it is suggested that the writer be active on the site and only write for a single community.
The design of SB Nation is responsive, allowing for their visitors to have the same site on their cell phones as they do on the desktop computer. This translates into their success as the number one site for percentage of total minutes spent on a site via a mobile device. If fans have a good experience on a computer, they are likely to turn to that site when they are on a mobile device. SB Nation does not have an app, but the design of their site allow for them to not need the one. Fans are engaging with the content – they had 34 million comments in 2012 and they have 1,483,936 followers on Twitter. The design interface is clean cut with a solid combination of photos and text that isn’t overwhelming to the user. It is a more modern design than that of sites like ESPN and Bleacher Report, but with their target audience being younger the contemporary look is helping to keep those young users.
There are a few opportunities that SB Nation is missing out on when it comes to content. A few gaps can be found in the fitness section. They have one blog for running, but this could expand to have blogs about the best gym and home workouts as well as a blog about nutrition. At first glance, these new topics may not be the biggest hits among this younger male demographic, but they could provide opportunities to engage in a younger female demographic that they may not be reaching. Another gap of coverage is high school sports. SB Nation is a great resource for information and research on professional sports and they have a section dedicated to college football recruitment, but other incredible stories are happening to high school athletes.
Yahoo! Sports has a blog dedicated to high school sports titled “Prep Rally” that highlights interesting news. Since SB Nation is so focused on the fan they are missing out on allowing some of the best fans to discuss sports. These fans are the family members of high school athletes, especially moms. There is a precaution that needs to be taken in order to avoid trash talking and it becoming a way for students to bully other students, but since SB Nation has guidelines about all their other communities this one should be no different. Yahoo! Sports has two main contributors, but SB Nation can create an internship program where those interns have the opportunity to contribute to the high school community and learn the behind the scenes of the site.
As a consumer, SB Nation is a site that I visit often. They aren’t the first place I go to for scores, but it is a place where I feel like I can interact as part of a community where my opinion is just as important as the opinion of someone else. I also believe that the guidelines provided make it easier to contribute to the site without feeling like it would be criticized in an unprofessional and hurtful manner. The community atmosphere allows for growth personally and professionally. SB Nation provides a networking opportunity that I think sites like Bleacher Report are missing out on – SB Nation writers are encouraged to interact with those that comment on their pieces. It isn’t often that the author recognizes something said by a fan in a comment.
As an SB Nation consumer, I spoke with Ricky O’Donnell the editor of the SB Nation Chicago blog. He encouraged site visitors, especially those who want to have a future in sports writing, to read. “Never write more than you read,” said O’Donnell. He also suggested that if you want to write, then you should be writing for free constantly. SB Nation provides the platform to read more and write for free.
Overall SB Nation is a popular site both on a desktop and a mobile device. They are succeeding on social networks and engaging with sports fans all over the world. With specific coverage in 310 categories including all the major teams and colleges, they are able to share all different kinds of news and opinions. Their main guideline is that members feel like they are chatting with other fans in a sports bar. It appears that they are achieving this through their communities, which is a selling point over sites like Bleacher Report.